Post-Separation Abuse and Custody Battle Across International Borders
IN a rather perplexing turn of events on the evening of Apr 22, the Delhi High Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to issue a non-bailable warrant and a Red Corner Notice against Karan Goel, a United States citizen. Goel had allegedly “abducted” his daughter illegally to Nepal from New Delhi.
The division bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar directed Goel to produce his minor daughter before the court on the next date of hearing. Another division bench of the high court, on April 18, had issued Goel and his mother Jasleen a contempt of court show cause notice for misleading the court and submitting fake passports to the Registrar General of the court.
A U.S. Department of State Press briefing of May 5 stated the facts of the case as the child’s Indian national mother (and the petitioner before the high court) had wrongfully retained the U.S. citizen child in India in 2017. A court in Cook County, Illinois provided sole custody of the child to Goel. The department considers this to be a case of an “international parental child abduction case between the U.S. and India”. According to the department, the U.S formally raised the issue with the Indian government.
Control tactics can include dragging women through expensive litigation, harassment during visitation, gas lighting, legal silencing, isolation, and using children to harass. child contact provides coercive control-perpetrating fathers with opportunities to continue their abuse of children and ex-partners.
I argue how the act of removing a child from their mother’s care is an example of post-separation abuse disguised in court visitation. I point out the need for cultural competency on part of U.S. courts to understand coercive control, and the plight of South Asian immigrant survivors of domestic abuse.
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Post-separation coercive control as a form of abuse
Post-separation control is a form of abuse used by abusive men to exercise control over the woman after the marriage or relationship has ended. It is embedded in a power and control cycle. Control tactics can include dragging women through expensive litigation, harassment during visitation, gaslighting, legal silencing, isolation, and using children to harass.
In cases of divorce/separation, women believe the abuse has ended, but often custody battles and visitation rights are used as a form of coercive control. Coercive control is a form of abuse that involves manipulation and control as tactics to instill violence. The Government of the United Kingdom recently criminalized coercive control in its courts.
British researcher Emma Katz and Finnish researchers Anna Nikupeteri and Merja Laitinen, in their 2020 paper When Coercive Control Continues to Harm Children: Post-Separation Fathering, Stalking and Domestic Violence, elaborate how child contact provides coercive control-perpetrating fathers with opportunities to continue their abuse of children and ex-partners. They examined fathers’/father figures’ tactics of coercive control from children’s perspectives. They noticed three types of fathering with respect to coercive control: ‘dangerous fathering’, ‘admirable fathering’, and ‘omnipresent fathering’. “Dangerous fathering and ‘admirable’ fathering describe the different kinds of acts that fathers/father figures used while perpetrating coercive control, while omnipresent fathering occurred in children as a fearful mental and emotional state”, they write. They concluded that children are also victims of coercive control post-separation, and robust measures need to be taken to understand the role of fathers as abusive in such situations.
‘Parental kidnapping’ needs a nuanced understanding
This incident also highlights the complexities of ‘parent kidnapping’ in domestic disputes that play across international borders. The conflicting rights of an abducted child and the left-behind parent, and international laws intermingle to cause confusion. In such cases, determining the “best interests of child” becomes complicated, in custody battles, between the natural choice guardian, that is, the mother, and the father.
The act of “kidnapping” by mothers who are primary caregivers is in actuality women trapped in abusive marriages abroad with minimal economic support, leaving an abusive marriage and protecting the rights and safety of their children.
Another debate around parent kidnapping is the signing of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Rights. The intention of the convention is to preserve the status quo of child custody that existed before the “parental abduction”. India has not signed the convention to protect Indian women abroad. However, there were recent talks to review the stand to sign the convention. The act of “kidnapping” by mothers who are primary caregivers is in actuality women trapped in abusive marriages abroad with minimal economic support, leaving an abusive marriage and protecting the rights and safety of their children.
Cultural competency training needed for U.S. judges and lawyers
It becomes essential for international courts to understand the cultural relativity of marriages, separation, and violence against women. With south Asians becoming the largest immigrant group in developed countries, especially in the U.S., cultural competency training of judges and lawyers need to be a priority. For example: understanding the power dynamics in a patriarchal society, how dowry is a system of exploitation, coercive control intermingled with South Asian strict gender roles, and custody battles, among many other things.
Issuance of sole custody in an American court such as in this case is a reflection of the court’s inability to understand how the system of power works against women, especially immigrant women.
Issuance of sole custody in an American court such as in this case is a reflection of the court’s inability to understand how the system of power works against women, especially immigrant women. The U.S. court fails to understand how an abused immigrant woman left the country with her child to safety. This ‘act of leaving’ is perceived as absconding or kidnapping by the court. Courts need to be reminded that the lack of resources in a new country puts immigrant women in a uniquely vulnerable position. South Asian immigrant women suffering from domestic violence in the U.S. have historically underreported crimes against them due to issues of language barrier, social isolation, legislative disadvantages, and legal and financial dependency. Therefore, U.S. courts are in dire need to have cultural competency training to understand the plight of immigrant women in context of domestic violence.
Also read: The Unsafe Home
I believe this case needs to be analyzed using the lens of violence against women, cultural competence and immigrant women rights. It is a request to women’s rights groups in the U.S. and India to collectivize and advocate in solidarity for survivors of coercive control.
Shivangi Deshwal is a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore. Her areas of interest include the help-seeking behavior of South Asian women facing domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
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